King's College London
Online Exhibitions
The David Clarke Collection

A History Of Pageants

A scene from the Sherborne PageantSherborne Pageant, 1905 St Albans Pageant programmeThe St. Albans Pageant, 1948 One of the earliest recorded pageants, also known as ‘The Mother of All Pageants’ took place in Sherborne, Dorset in 1905.

A local music teacher, Louis Napoleon Parker, was asked to put on a display of local history and it was here that the modern idea of pageantry was born.

With thousands of people attending the pageant, the event was truly epic in all proportions and further documents show that from 1905 onwards, pageant fervour was starting to rise. This rising interest in pageants has been described by Paul Readman and others as ‘Pagentitis’.

Over the next sixty years, historical pageant productions cemented themselves within the imagination of the people of Britain - increasing in popularity to such an extent that they quickly became celebrated events of historical significance in the towns they took place in.

Before World War I, approximately eighty-two pageants took place in the United Kingdom, demonstrating how people were taking a greater interest in their local history.

Alongside the pageants, there was also a rise in the sale of history books, indicating the increasing prominence of history in English society at the time.

Pageants however, offered something different to books. They offered a physical participation in history allowing anyone to be able to engage with the history of their town in a more immediate way.

The staging of pageants continued in this vein until the 1970s and 1980s. Sadly, rising costs meant that organising and producing pageants on the scale that was once previously possible became a financial burden for those involved.

Coupled with the rise of more affordable home entertainment that arguably diminished the crowds and the participation of actors in productions, the latter half of the twentieth century saw a sharp decline in the number of pageants staged.

This exhibition featuring the David Clarke Collection, has been researched and compiled by Fraser Simpson, MA student History Department, King’s College London.
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